Batmonth!: One Shot 6: The Batman Chronicles #16

Twenty-two pages fills up fast.  There’s no denying that.  Action sequences often eat up huge chunks of a book, and you can only fit so much dialogue on the page before it becomes cluttered, not to mention how much of the probably excellent art you’ll be covering up by doing so.  So, understandably, most writers will have their stories run in arcs, often using well over 100 pages to let it unfold.  It’s not hard to see why, but the tendency to keep expanding the story is part of what makes it so rewarding when you come across a single issue that manages to not only exemplify what it is you so love about that particular book, or even comics in general, but that manages to do so with an impressive economy of storytelling.  One Shot is meant to take a close look at why those issues work as well as they do, the way they do.

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Review: The Question #37

The Question #37 continues the trend of disappointing Blackest Night tie-ins that aren’t so much bad as they are incomplete.  Teaming up Denny O’Neil, renowned Batman-family scribe and writer behind The Question’s longest-running solo title, and Greg Rucka, the writer who shepherded Vic Sage to his ultimate fate and has written his legacy ever since, was a brilliant idea at heart, allowing the two eras of the Question to be reconciled a little more fully. Unfortunately, given a full issue to work with, O’Neil and Rucka, working with art team Cowan and Sienkiewicz, end up turning in what feels like half a story.

Cowan and Sienkiewicz turn in atmospheric art that works well in the build-up, but slows the action down a bit too much.  The three-way fight between these gifted martial artists (or the preceding one-on-one fight) should not be quite as static as it is, and while Cowan and Sienkiewicz have the bleak, oppressive “Blackest Night” feel down pat, they don’t quite manage to balance it with the actual content of the book.

Ultimately, The Question #37 feels more like the beginning of a very traditional arc.  The creative team is extremely comfortable with it, and it shows as the issue is quite polished, a smooth, quick read that builds off pre-established relationships without too much exposition.  Finishing the issue, however, just leaves you with a vague emptiness.  Reviving beloved fan-favorite titles from cancellation was a brilliant marketing concept, but a one-issue round of fisticuffs just doesn’t satisfy the same niche that these books did when they were alive.  Just like the Black Lanterns they came back with, this latest month of tie-ins has all the trappings of the beloved titles, but lacks heart.

Grade: C+

– Cal Cleary

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Review: Detective Comics #861

For those that hadn’t heard the news: Detective Comics #860, the final, fabulous issue of Batwoman’s origins, was also the final issue of collaboration between Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III.  In fact, Batwoman herself only has a few short months remaining, with David Hine launching a two-part arc continuing his story about the rebuilding of Arkham Asylum with #864.  And while Rucka and Williams III have stated that they are interested in and are fighting for a Batwoman ongoing, for now, it seems like the character’s brief, critically acclaimed time in the spotlight may be coming to a close as DC attempts to wrap up its surprisingly bold moves on their flagship titles.  This issue, launching an arc titled “Cutter”, sees Williams replaced by the talented Jock and Batman largely taking over from Batwoman, though Rucka remains as writer, and Hamner stays on art duties for Renee Montoya’s back-up feature.

Jock occasionally tries a little too hard to mimic Williams’ style, and while he achieves a surprising amount of success, he just doesn’t have Williams’ eye for memorable, creative scene and structure.  He does seem, however, to have inherited Williams’ rather stiff action segments.  Still, he proves a surprisingly apt replacement for Williams.  While he doesn’t help raise the quality of one of Rucka’s more mundane scripts up, the pair nonetheless work well together, and suggest that Detective Comics is in good hands for now.

The back-up continues to run along the same, lengthy story as we continue to deal with the fall-out of Renee’s recent attacks on the mob.  With Tot and the Huntress at her back, the Question deals with the assassin who trailed them, leading to some questionable decision-making (and characterization).  Rucka and Hamner both display confidence, here, though the need to set-up the next part of the conflict and the cramped environment play to neither creator’s strengths.  Like the main feature, the work is quality, just not up to the level to book has led us to expect.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #859

Review: Detective Comics #859

“Go” continues with this issue, and it’s even better than the last.  While it lacked the emotional gut-punch of Kate’s family’s fate, it in many ways surpasses the previous issue.  Following Kate from college through her relationship with Renee Montoya, part two of “Go” briefly examines the very real preposterism of the army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies and how easy it is to get lost after you leave school without knowing what to do, all while intermingling it with the continuing story of the Crime Bible, even introducing a nice twist in the proceedings.

After being kicked out of West Point when she’s revealed to be gay, Kate finds herself with nowhere to go.  Rucka treats the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seriously, as it deserves, and illustrates the bigotry of the policy.  From there, the book moves quickly through Kate’s fall as, directionless, she becomes a wealthy layabout, a hedonist unable to stick with anything she does until a chance encounter in an alley suggests that she might have some way to use her skills after all.

It is hard to review this comic issue by issue, at least when it comes to the art – while the quality of Rucka’s story may vary from month to month, J.H. Williams III remains consistent as one of the industry’s strongest talents.  Along with colorist Dave Stewart, Williams gives the book a unique, exciting visual style that never fails to please.  This issue is no exception in that regard.

The back-up remains solid, introducing another supporting character for Renee to bounce off: the Huntress.  Rucka smartly continues his first story, building his entire back-up run into a lengthy thriller and giving it the feel of a longer book.  Hamner’s art is quite well, and while the issue doesn’t give him as much opportunity as normal to show Renee in motion, which has become a pleasure to watch under Hamner’s pen, he does an excellent job at the book’s longest action sequence.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #858

Detective Comics #857

Catch-Up Mini-Reviews

Detective Comics #856

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Greg Rucka’s story in Detective Comics isn’t particular deep.  It’s a relatively simple story, in fact: Batwoman learns that the new leader of the Religion of Crime is coming to Gotham, goes, confronts her.  It’s a pretty standard adventure comic, with Rucka’s usual capable plotting and dialogue.  In fact, the more concise, fun Question back-up in the book features slightly sharper writing thus far… but no one will confuse that for the better read.  Hamner continues to turn in clean, dynamic work on the Question back-up, while J.H. Williams III’s work on the main feature remains stellar.  The book is gorgeous and well-written, and consistently worth your time.

Grade: B+

Wonder Woman #35

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Gail Simone finishes up this brief arc with a few revelations and a lot of aftermath left over from “Rise of the Olympian”, including some dark promises and new powers.  All of it sets up the next big story, but it’s done in one of the book’s most engaging, fun arcs Simone’s run has produced.  She goes a way too heavy on the fan-worship of Black Canary in a number of awkward, uncomfortable internal monologues from Wonder Woman, but the arc otherwise offers action with gorgeous, fluid art from Lopresti paired with a simple story setting up another major new chapter in Diana’s life.

Grade: A-

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #4

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Ink continues to be a pleasant surprise for me.  Fiorentino’s art, while occasionally muddy, is improving, and he’s demonstrated himself to be an apt choice to illustrate just how formidable the Tattooed Man can be.  Wallace’s story, meanwhile, generally maintains its pleasant mix of urban crime drama and superheroics, though the more action-oriented approach to this issue meant that it sacrificed a little bit of the drama in favor of the superheroics.  A late game plot twist took that shift a little too far, however, and the issue ends somewhere between the ridiculous and the parodic.

Grade: B+

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4

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Dance finally pulls itself out of the slump the mini had been in and starts moving forward.  Though the last issue was of a high quality, the mini really wasn’t going much of anywhere.  With the team broken up, however, and the media blitz that had blinded them for the first few issues fading, Most Excellent Superbat finally has time to check up on his home country.  Not all is right in Japan, however, and he’s forced to get the team back together again.  Casey’s writing of these new teen heroes remains relatively sharp, while Chriscross’ cartoony art more than keeps up with the book’s humor and energy.  If only DC’s other teen heroes were even half so interesting right now…

Grade: B+

Incognito #6

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Brubaker and Phillips complete the first arc with the strongest, most exciting issue yet.  We learn even more about the origins of the Overkill brothers, learn about why Yuri was created, and see a massive showdown between Zack and his old allies.  All the action is well-illustrated by Sean Phillips in some of his most exciting fights yet.  The book is undeniably over the top, but it loves living up its pulp roots.  Though it’ll be quite some time before we get the next issue, the news isn’t all bad – the reason for the long delay is because Brubaker and Phillips will be returning to do a new arc on Criminal.

Grade: A

Runaways #13

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Immonen was responsible for last year’s manic, excellent Patsy Walker: Hellcat.  Unfortunately her Runaways, which finds her teamed with Sara Pichelli, lacks both the momentum and the cleverness of her debut work. Pichelli’s art is clean and cartoonish, giving the book a sense of energy, but it isn’t enough.  It isn’t enough, however.  After subpar runs from Whedon and Moore, Immonen and Pichelli needed to start their run off with a bang.  Unless the end of the arc offers up some pretty massive surprises, it’s safe to say that she’s failed to do so.

Grade: C

Doktor Sleepless #13

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After a lengthy delay, the good Doktor returns.  Things are heating up in Heavenside, mostly according to the Doktor’s plans.  The issue reads like a montage of the city going to hell, and while it isn’t the most creative or compelling issue Ellis has turned in thus far, it is nonetheless immensely satisfying to see everything come to a head like this.  Rodriguez continues to improve as his design becomes more confident and his figures become less stiff.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #855

Doktor Sleepless #11

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #3

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3

Incognito #6

Runaways #12

Wonder Woman #34

Review: Detective Comics #855

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It is a strength of Detective Comics that Greg Rucka’s writing manages to match the excellent art of J.H. Williams III every step of the way.  The pair continue to flesh out Kate Kane, the myserious Batwoman, in small chunks amidst a rousing action story as she faces off against the Religion of Crime and their new leader, Alice.  The story isn’t particularly complex, but it combines action and exposition better than any number of recent comics I’ve read.

It should come as no surprise that the art is fantastic: Williams remains one of the top talents working today.  It isn’t just his art that works – alone, his figures can occasionally be too static, unable to come alive on the page the way a lot of the best comic art does.  He combines solid artwork with excellent panelling and a gift few other artists share for crafting arresting images that work well .  Working together with colorist Dave Stewart, Williams has hit the jack-pot on this book.

Meanwhile, despite following up in Williams’ wake, Hamner continues to bring a stark simplicity to Rucka’s Renee Montoya back-ups.  The art is more traditional, and less memorable, in every way, but it plays to Hamner’s strengths and definitely shows some progress from his days on Blue Beetle.  The action is well-handled and smooth, and his varied designs for Renee work perfectly.

Two issues in, and Detective Comics looks like it just might be DC’s strongest relaunch in quite some time.  Though the focus will undoubtedly be drawn away in the coming months as “Blackest Night” chugs on, this is definitely a title everyone should try out.  Clever, gorgeous and action-packed, Detective Comics #855 is a remarkably strong title.  Not flawless, but Rucka and company have definitely breathed new life into one of DC’s flagship books.

Grade: A

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #854

SeventhSoldier’s Top Five for June

There were a lot of honorable mentions this month – June 2009 was one of the best months for comics in a good long while.  From Gail Simone’s always fun Secret Six to the sleeper hit of the month for me, Rucka’s Action Comics Annual #12 – and, spoiler alert, tomorrow’s review of Kathryn Immonen rock-solid first issue on Marvel’s Runaways – June made this a pretty damn hard call to make.  I’ve given out a few pretty bad grades this month, but for the most part, the average was high – there were more A-‘s than B’s for the first time in my reviewing history on the site!

To my surprise, as someone who doesn’t particularly care for Batman as a character or as a mythos terribly much, three of the best books I read this month were newly-launched Bat-books/arcs.  Also a first?  Two different Marvel books were edging in on the top 5.  Any other month, Runaways #11 or Captain Britain and MI:13 #14 would’ve had a strong shot at prime placement.

Edit: Since I hadn’t put the review up yet, I forgot, but a Marvel title actually did make the Top 5.  Sorry, Paul Dini.

#5 Incognito #4

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There hasn’t been a bad issue yet of the Brubaker/Phillips collaboration Incognito.  I don’t yet know if it’ll be able to match Sleeper or Criminal – two absolutely stellar works in a similar vein… and yes, they have one or two other things in common with this book – but this issue kept the story moving along faster than I could believe and with a great deal of style and a sense of pulp adventure.  Incognito is a blast to read, without a doubt.

#4 Batman and Robin #1

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Splashy, gorgeous art?  Check.  Interesting new villain?  Check.  Rousing adventure?  Check.  Batman and Robin #1 has all that along with great panelling and the coolest sound effects you can imagine.  Morrison and Quitely make quite a team, as they’ve illustrated numerous times in the past, and this looks to be no exception.

#3 The Unwritten #2

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Carey and Gross continue on with a second issue every bit as good as their first in one of the strongest Vertigo launches I’ve seen in awhile.  There are so many small touches that go into making this book great that I can hardly list them, but this is definitely a title to be on the lookout for.  If you aren’t picking it up monthly, be sure to be on the lookout for the trades.

#2: Detective Comics #854

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Together, J.H. Williams III and Greg Rucka delivered a stellar opening issue to Batwoman’s stint on Detective Comics… and that’s before you add the talented Cully Hamner into the mix with his and Rucka’s The Question backup.  The book was fast-paced and exciting while still introducing a supporting cast, a new villain, and a personality in the formerly personalitiless Kate Kane.  It did a whole lot in a tiny space, and left me eagerly awaiting more.

#1: Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3

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God, what a strange, strange book.  Wonderful, though.  As a surreal adventure books, Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye is a satisfying book with a sharp edge of humor and a knack for innovation.  As a meta-commentary on super-hero comics, it was cutting, clever and fun.  As the finale of a threeissue mini that wrapped up the middle-child of Morrison’s planned three-volume Seaguy trilogy, it was pretty nearly perfect.

– Cal Cleary

May

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Review: Detective Comics #854

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Detective Comics, the title for which DC Comics is actually named, is no longer headed by Batman, at least not for now.  No, for the next few months, Detective Comics will be led by the mysterious Batwoman.  It’s a risky move, but if Detective Comics #854 is any example of what we can expect from future issues, it’s one that should work very, very well.

Introduced in 52, Batwoman drew a lot of ire from a lot of fans as being just another token minority character (in this case, a lesbian).  That said, her appearances as a supporting character in the interesting relationship between Vic Sage and Renee Montoya didn’t exactly give her too much screen time in which to flourish, and the complaint came at a time when DC was introducing a rush of new characters to the scene, almost every one of which was met with similar complains.  Despite constant promises for the last three years that the character would be fleshed out in her own mini, DC (perhaps) smartly waited until now to do so.  A mini starring a female character is a risky proposition at best in today’s market.  But put that same character headlining in their oldest title in place of the missing Batman?  Well, we’ll see how that works out… but it’s certainly brought the character back to the spotlight in a big way.

So, now that Kate Kane is there, how does she fare?  Quite well!  To no one’s surprise at all, Rucka delivers a quality opening issue working with J.H. Williams III, one of the most talented artists in comics.  The pair offer up a tense, action packed issue that fulfills the promise to begin fleshing out Kate Kane as a character while continuing the ongoing saga of the Crime Bible.  A new villain is introduced, and a supporting cast is started.  Not a bad beginning for a character who was, coming into the issue, largely a blank slate.  There is one worrying moment in the issue, dealing with a potential motivation for Kate, in which it is hinted that Kate has the most trite origin imaginable for a modern female hero, but the remainder of the issue is of such high quality that I am willing to wait and see where Rucka takes this.

The real star here, though, is Williams and colorist Dave Stewart, who’ve given the book a rather haunting look in its frequent contrasts of white, red and black and its absolutely stellar panelling.  By now, you’ve likely all seen the preview pages that have been posted on every comics site in existence.  Suffice to say, the entire issue lives up to that level of quality with ease.  It’s very nearly worth the price of admission to see the art alone.

The second part of the book – and the reason for the dreaded $3.99 price tag – is the backup feature, this one also by Greg Rucka.  Cully Hamner (Blue Beetle) is given the unenviable task of following up on the JH Williams III main feature, but he does an excellent job in giving Renee a physical personality and sense of style that easily could have gotten lost in the shortened page count.  The story is brief and compelling, every bit as good as the excellent backup from Streets of Gotham.  It’s a more-than-worthy addition to an excellent first issue.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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Review: Final Crisis: Revelations #1

Written by Greg Rucka, you knew that Final Crisis: Revelations stood a good chance of being great – and for the most part, it lives up to its potential.  Throughout FInal Crisis, you may have noticed one or two things.  Renee Montoya, for one, seemed to know a lot about what was going on – more than anyone else, for one thing.  And just how was Libra holding onto such a volatile group of people without an ounce of fear.  Taunting Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, and more, without fear of reprisal?

Revelations gets into all that.  Crispus Allen, who became the Spectre in Infinite Crisis and then promptly disappeared (The Spectre being one of the characters DC seems to love in concept, but just can’t seem to figure out how to use) returns here.  When Libra and his Society killed the Martian Manhunter, that was genocide, as he was the last of his race.  God’s pretty unhappy about that, and when you do something that pisses God off, you get The Spectre.  The book opens with the Spectre going through the list of people who were involved in the event – Dr. Light, just to name one, gets some long-overdue comeuppance.

But the first big twist of Revelations is that not all is as it seems with one person the Spectre goes for – it seems that Evil has it’s own spirit and the Spectre is seemingly powerless in front of him.  Meanwhile, Rucka also returns to another favorite is his, Renee Montoya, now the Question.  When last we saw Renee (in the excellent The Question: The Five Books of Blood), she had become the leader of the Religion of Crime, but now she’s betrayed them, and she’s using the Crime Bible to try and follow and predict the movements of the Dark Faith.

Artist Philip Tan is responsible for both the cover art and the interior, and he surpasses JG Jones on art duties (though Jones’ layouts are still superior).  The art is dark and moody, but Tan shows that he is more than capable of doing some nice action scenes.  

Overall, it’s a good opening chapter.  It’s action and mystery.  Rucka does a great job of characterizing Montoya, and he finally gives Crispus some screen-time as the Spectre, and finally gives the Spectre something to do.  An enjoyable, albeit dark, read.

Grade: A-

Review: Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #5

Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #5

“The Parable of the Faceless”

Greg Rucka concluded his mini-series starring Renee Montoya as The Question just last week with issue five of Crime Bible. The mini-series, a spin-off of DC’s last big event 52 deals with Renee’s ongoing rivalry with the ‘Dark Faith’, a religion dedicated to the spread of all the worst things in men. Each of the first four issues dealt with Renee being put through, in some way, one of the ‘Lessons of Blood’ – Deceit, Lust, Greed, and Murder – and in this, she’s put to the test in a way she never imagined as she is allowed entry into the heart of the Religion of Crime and faced with a terrifying prospect: has her time studying the faith changed her? Continue reading